Good morning. I wrote this in our new home in Effingham about two hundred miles from this church, and I have to admit I’m struggling with this move. It isn’t the same as going away to school like I will in a few weeks, because in the past when I’ve come home from college, I’ve been coming home here. I’ve never been big on cities, and if I’m being honest, I loved the immediate sense of community we felt upon arriving in our new very small town. I was fine, more than fine, with leaving Chicago, but I was not happy about leaving this church. I’m still not happy about it.
It may seem silly to be talking about my feelings in front of a sizeable crowd of people, especially when those feelings are so strong, but it’s you that I don’t want to leave. We have a beautiful sanctuary, and I just adore our stained glass windows, but those things aren’t what I so sorely miss about this place. I love the love that I have experienced here. I am so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from everyone this summer.
As Katherine said in one of our final meetings, and as I’ve said to my parents and my friends many times since, it’s so wonderful to have your home church affirm your call. I want to thank you for that.
Before this summer, I had a set mental picture of what being a pastor meant. I imagined a cozy church office with dark wood paneling and an armchair and maybe even a stained glass window thrown in. And there would be a huge bookshelf, too, covering an entire wall, because I just love books. Half the books would no doubt be various Bible translations and full sets of Biblical commentaries, and the rest would be a mix of world religions and the history of the Church and so on. I imagined spending my days curled up with a cup of tea, flipping through my books and meditating on the scriptures. I would spend a great deal of time in prayer, as well—all very pastoral things to do, of course. And I would go on hospital visits or to people’s homes to offer pastoral care, or maybe they would stop by my office. On Sunday mornings I imagined standing in front of my future congregation, offering well-written prayers and delivering a perfectly rehearsed sermon.
It was a very pretty picture, but it was also fairly superficial. I saw quite vividly the office I would have and the pulpit from which I would preach every Sunday, but I was missing the bigger picture.
Ministry, as I’ve learned from this all-too-short summer, is a celebration of life. As a pastor, I will serve. I will be let into the most private moments of people’s lives. I will rejoice in life and weep in death, but I will always remember that death is not the end, because we are living in the resurrection. I will know that even in the darkest of times, there is hope, and I will strive to find it and help others see it. I will make every effort to live out the love of Christ. I will surrender to the Spirit, so it will move me where it may. I will forever do my best to open my church’s eyes to the wonder and splendor of God. There will probably still be an office, and knowing me it will be filled with books. The picture I imagine now is similar to the one I had before, except it is more vibrant and magical and fuller than I ever dreamed.
There simply aren’t words for the joy I feel when I imagine this future life. I believe I am called to be a pastor because I don’t think I would feel fulfilled doing anything else, and quite frankly, I can’t think of one other job I would even consider doing. I believe that God has given me the necessary gifts for this calling, and I plan on developing them as much as I can over the next six years before my ministry begins.
I’m still sad about moving. I’m sad that when I do come home it won’t be completely home, because as the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and I’m leaving a part of my heart with you. But luckily, thankfully, this isn’t where we say good-bye. This will always be my home church. This will always be the place where I was baptized and confirmed. This is the place where I first fell in love with God, and the place where it first occurred to me, about a year ago, that the ministry might possibly be the thing for me. I love this church more than I can describe. I love the people in this church, and I really do want to thank you all, not just for your support, but for everything you do that makes this place so special. I know I will visit many times, and I hope this is not the last of my experiences here. I’ve learned a lot, and I have a long way to go, and I look forward to sharing that journey with all of you. Thank you.
Peace be with you.